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Flash Review 1, 10-16: Bocca Channels Fosse
Star Hot, His "Modern Ballets" Not

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

When discussing an art as meticulous as ballet, it is difficult to overlook things. As regards Julio Bocca/Ballet Argentino's mixed program seen Saturday night at City Center, I speak not of the finicky details that can compound in an underprepared company's performance; no, here the technique was highly polished. I refer to larger problems -- in this case, the horrendously archaic selection of "modern ballet" chosen to showcase this technically excellent troupe. It was no surprise that the saving grace was Bocca himself, bearing enough talent to numb the memory of some weak terpsichorean efforts.

The program began with the "Don Quixote Pas de Deux," attributed to A. Lojo after M. Petipa to the Minkus score. This piece represented the most brittle of evening's classical idioms, serving as little more than a display of ballet chops. (Is that enough to justify its presence on the bill?) Bocca relaxed into the technique, and presented us with a neat, effortless sequence of double tours en l'air punctuated with multiple turns. His partner, Luciana Paris, dealt commendably with some difficult passages, bobbling occasionally, as in a simple balance set up with Bocca's ardent help.

The duet "Adagietto," by Oscar Araiz to Mahler's Symphony No. 4, was performed in soft shoes. Cecilia Figaredo was carried onstage by Christian Alessandria, as she was through much of the piece. Totally symbiotic, they morphed, linked, and interfaced in clever choreography that exploited the strength of their ballet training with mellifluous phrasing. Figaredo executed an interesting flourish to a lift by very slowly drawing her pointed foot up her shin far past her knee.

A most puzzling piece followed: "Suite Generis," choreographed by Albert Mendez to Handel and Haydn. This trio embodied the worst of contemporary ballet (though the date of creation was not provided; ditto for the rest of the program, oddly), where the vocabulary is a vulgar interpretation of the standard. Flexed feet and those linked somersaults that are the trademarks of circus clowns top the list of culprits that, rather than contributing to the evolution of the language of ballet, merely degrade it. Sometimes it felt like I was watching a prissy Pilobolus -- not a good sensation.

The ambitious "Sinfonia Entrelazada" was purportedly based by choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti on characters in Shakespeare's "Two Gentlemen of Verona," plus two sonnets. Performed to Mozart, the overly-freighted work began and ended with spoken text laid over the music. Dismayingly, more of the flex-footed variety of ballet was presented, and though explored to happier ends, emphasized six o'clock extensions far too often. Bocca was not given excessive stage time, and yet he never failed to draw the eye when on stage. The dramatic lighting, by Miguel Cuartas, who lit the entire program, was quite powerful, particularly in its sulfuric yellow incarnation.

The evening's highlight was "Piazzolla Tango Vivo," choreographed by Ana Maria Stekelman to eight songs performed live by the Fundacion Astor Piazzolla Quintet. The bass-heavy renditions of the composer's familiar-yet-exotic songs contrasted starkly with the rest of the program's recorded classical music, immediately bringing the house to life. The authentic roots of this piece were evident, from the harsh, raking, white light to the women's nearly three inch patent leather shoes. The songs set the tone for varying tempi and dynamics, the dance ranging from a massing corps -- fascistic in its powerful appeal as well as its threatening presence -- to the requisite couple in serious ballroom competition mode.

Bocca, channeling Bob Fosse's intensity, stage presence, and even his coiled torso, performed a most remarkable solo (with table) that I swear left a smoldering spot on the stage. The work ended with him tangoing with another man; remarkably, Bocca managed to dance the part exuding equal parts feminity and masculinity. It's not just his technical gifts that make him exciting to watch; he is so at peace onstage that he could be doing pretty much any style of dance and it almost wouldn't matter. (Mercifully, it never felt like he was performing academic ballet even when he was.) There was never the sense that he needed to be liked by the audience, just that he understood his value to us, and ours to him -- a mutually respectful agreement. If only the program had been honed to better fit this technically accomplished young company and its engaging director.

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